Suspiria ★★★½

If Suspiria is the latest entry into this newfangled mini-genre known as “art-horror” or whatever, then we have a long road ahead of us. Not because this film is bad, but because watching this, I can already feel the tiredness creeping in towards this mini-genre. Of course, “art-horror” or “elevated-horror” or whatever tired name this thing is developing is just a fancy way of saying “smart horror,” which is incredibly patronising (and of course, bullshit) since it implies that only certain horror films are smart and actually have something to say; the rest are stupid garbage. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but with films in recent years such as Get Out, Hereditary, and A Quiet Place hitting the scene, there’s definitely been this audience shift in separating horror films; those deemed “higher” than others get labelled as art, while those deemed unfit are relegated to the level of everything else.

The reason I bring this up is because Suspiria, even though I liked the film, already feels like the apotheosis of “art-horror” - in a bad way. It’s everything a fan of this kind of “intellectual” horror would want; a political backdrop, an interesting visual palette, unusual editing and abject craziness. But I feel this is a film that is actually less than the sum of its parts. All these aspects are good, but together they feel hollow. Despite lots of people talking about themes like motherhood and power, it feels like the film has these ideas floating around but never actually acts upon them. Saying it has a motherhood theme feels especially egregious since there’s barely anything motherhood-related here, and it feels like critics have just assumed that a film that involves a lot of female characters must have something to do with motherhood, surely?! Matriarchies and guilt are also hinted at, but in the sort of way that seems vaguely smart for bringing them up, without actually developing any of the ideas. The only theme that is partially interesting is setting the film in 1970s Berlin in the wake of vergangenheitsbewältigung (definitely knew that by heart), a post-war period of Germany reflecting on their sins of World War II and the holocaust. It opens up interesting ideas about people having learnt little from such a horrific time, as the women running the dance studio are still shown to be abusing their power and also hunting for a “pure” specimen to sacrifice. But even this theme feels a little forced considering this is, by and large, a supernatural horror film with a lot of blood and, frankly, a lot of ridiculousness.

It’s at times a confusing mix of arthouse, dark comedy, expressionism, French New Extremity, and more. It feels like Guadagnino wanted to cram as much in as possible (hence 152 minutes, I guess) in lieu of something a little more focused. Again, I know it doesn’t sound much like it, but I liked this film. I just felt that there was probably a chance for it to be something great, and there is a distinct feeling of an opportunity missed because the film isn’t able to come together and become something definitive.

I very much appreciate the vast differences from the original though; more remakes should be like this. It’s very much Guadagnino’s film which is exactly what I wanted to see. It’s the complete opposite to the giallo of the original film, and has a larger focus on movement and bodies. It’s sexualised in a non-icky way, it’s uncomfortable, and then it’s really fucking weird. Like super weird towards the end, I don’t know what “mainstream” audiences will think of this but it will be fun to find out.

It will probably be hard not to get consumed by this film when you’re watching it as I did, but it’s the salty aftertaste that stays with you. The kind of “so what?” feeling I had. Because this isn’t really a scary film, and it’s clearly trying to say something, but its ideas don’t quite coalesce into a satisfying whole. It’s that intent to be highbrow that kind of dooms Suspiria; by aiming to be this new arty horror it sets the bar too high and almost crashes and burns. This is the kind of thing I was talking about initially - films trying desperately to be considered a part of this “elite tier.” I doubt Jordan Peele was thinking about that imaginary tier when he was making Get Out, and who knows, maybe Guadagnino wasn’t either. But even though I liked Suspiria, I hope we don’t get many imitations of it. A good horror film is a good horror film, and purposely aiming to be something “better” is likely a recipe for disaster. Suspiria is not a failure because it’s in the hands of a talented director, but the next set of “art-horror” films may not be.

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